As long as I live there will be something worth fighting for, worth writing for, and worth dying for.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

When Messiah becomes the Kid Next Door

Teaching a Sunday school class brings with it a grand amount of responsibility and the harsh realization that I still have so much more to learn. Taking truths of Scripture and applying it to the lives of teenage girls requires first that I find an application to my life. Sometimes that is the hardest part. In the end, it always turns out to be the best part.

This morning, I taught the lesson of Jesus' rejection at Nazareth. The text is found in Luke 4. Keep in mind that this is where Jesus grew up. Until this point, His ministry has been elsewhere. In this text, He has returned home, and He is famous.

Jesus was known throughout the land as a worker of miracles. He was a hot commodity. A public speaker, if you will. He would walk into synagogues and the people would listen. That is, until He reached Nazareth.

Jesus returns to Nazareth, and, in keeping with Jewish customs, visits the synagogue on the Sabbath Day to hear the Word. They did not have cute pocket PDA Scripture back then. Scripture was written on, 'huge clonking scrolls' (as I put it this morning). Having a copy of the Bible was not convenient not to mention not possible. With every page handwritten with care, these weren't in high supply in the times of the Old Testament. The synagogue would have a copy, and they would regard that copy very highly. So, people would go to the synagogue to hear the word read.

On this particular occasion, Jesus has been handed the scroll of Isaiah to read. Isaiah had to have been a huge scroll. It was not like the priest handed him a verse scribbled on notebook paper and said, "Here. Read this." He handed Jesus the scroll. In our Bibles, Isaiah has 66 chapters. The text Jesus read is from Isaiah 61. He didn't even start where it was convenient! He had a message for these people.

Luke 4:18

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.

If you look in Isaiah, you will see that Jesus has left out the end of this section of Isaiah. He has stopped in the middle and it has left the people waiting... they are waiting for the message... for the punch line... for the reason why He has stood up and spoken so little.

He goes on to announce that He is Messiah. They don't believe Him. You can almost hear the thoughts in their heads.

"You? Messiah? HA!! Yeah right! You couldn't be Messiah."
"What? Jesus... our Jesus is Messiah? The Promised One? But He grew up playing in the streets with my little Rebekah. He couldn't be Messiah!"

I could go on about how they wanted miracles to prove it and how He did none. I could go on about the prejudice of Jews to Gentiles. I could even discuss the rest of the prophecy in Isaiah, but what got me the most today was this.

Has He become so commonplace to me, that He means nothing? Has He become so 'simple' that He couldn't possibly be more than what I think He is? If He were to come out and say, "Listen, you need to fix this part of Your life" what would I say? Would I believe He has any right in my life or would I dismiss Him like any other person in my life?

Has Jesus just become the kid next door?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Retreating to the Sacred

There are times in life when I can be a tad bit impulsive. I guess it is just the passion with which I live life. Last night I was online and suddenly got this grand idea to deactivate my Facebook. No particular reason, except maybe to show that I don't need it as much as I use it.

A couple of years ago I read a book by Eric Ludy entitled "Meet Mr. Smith." It subtitles itself as a book about sex, but it isn't. It is a book about life and how to live a life that honors God. The idea is that if our life honors God then our love life will be extraordinarily fulfilling. Love life aside, a chapter of the book emphasized sacredness.

Eric recounts his story by personifying human characteristics. In his book, Sacred is a person and Sacred has asked for his book. Sacred has asked to take his manuscript and walk away for a while and wants Eric to trust her. I remember that part spoke so vividly to me about what things in life are to be sacred.

Just yesterday I began reading in 1 Samuel and read the account of Hannah praying for, receiving, and dedicating Samuel. From conception, really, Samuel had been set apart for God's use. Being set apart for God's use means you will be used in God's time, in God's way and will allow yourself to be used as such. Sometimes it means allowing things to settle, to simmer, to wait. In Eric's case, with deadlines looming not far away, God asked him to put his book on hold for seven weeks in order to devote time to his family. Last night, I realized that Facebook has been pulling me away from what is sacred!

Facebook is not evil. I want to say that right now. When I have 500+ college classmates all in the marriage-babies stage, there is no way on this green earth that I would be able to keep track of all of them. It has been a great medium for communication and keeping up on their lives. But it has also been a leaky pipe when it comes to my ministry.

Writing, for me, comes as an impulse (told you I am impulsive). I could honestly be driving down the road, minding my own business, and BAM! thoughts come. It's like someone dumping a pile of marbles on a floor, they roll all over for bit, and then they settle. When they settle, I write. I may not even know what I am writing about, I just write. It allows me to sort through the pile of marbles, to admire them and place them carefully in a bag to be stored. Writing, really, is an energy for me more than an activity.

Facebook has been a medium for that energy. It is far easier and much more pleasant to write up a Facebook note when I am in the mood to write. I know people will be notified on their walls. I receive almost instant feedback in the form of comments or 'like' ratings. It is an instant gratification.

Instant gratification is not a protector or a friend of the sacred. It is the enemy of the sacred. It draws attention to oneself for the immediate glory of oneself. It is too easily controlled. Too easily forced and manipulated. It is just too easy. My energies are spent writing about my book instead of actually writing my book. Basically, I don't feel my book will get written because I am too busy updating people on Facebook.

So, I killed off Facebook until my family gets back from our vacation in July. In the meantime, I am retreating to the sacred.

What is sacred? you may ask.

To me, the two things that are sacred are my family and my ministry. The writing 'energy' I am given is to be used for God. It is my Samuel.

I expect great things in the next month. I am a dreamer, unashamed. I expect great things with Alabaster Grace. I expect great things with Beggar's Daughter. I expect great things with my youth group. I expect great things with my Sunday School class. That is my ministry. That is what is sacred.

I may be inconvenienced for a while, but I will take that. I will take the lack of communication with long lost friends. I will take missing the first pictures of new babies if it means that I can be lost in Christ.

I will still be here. This is part of my ministry. This is actually my freewriting (what writers write about until they are ready to write about that which they are supposed to write). For the most part though I will be lost inside my books. Books which are so near completion. Books which the world has never seen. Instant gratification? no. It is hard work. It is frustrating work. It is satisfying work because it is sacred work.

Monday, June 22, 2009

This is the Day...

I like being selfish when it comes to God. Is that allowed? God is mine, and sure, you can have Him, but I am convinced that I am His favorite. This perspective makes life much more exciting and even refreshing.

Yesterday, I climbed a mountain in Virginia with a good friend of mine, Bambee, and my in-too-good-of-shape-for-his-own-good brother, Jonathan. On the way to the mountain, we got lost. A rather unfortunate turn of events. The printed directions told us to take a road. At the entrance to the road was a cardboard sign that said, "No Old Rag access." (Old Rag is the name of the mountain). Well, we trusted the printed directions over the cardboard sign. We drove and drove, and right about the time we reached a 'house' made of clothes and bed sheets, we decided it wise to turn around. As we passed by the "No Access" sign, we realized there was a message at the bottom of the sign: "Google is lying." Made for a fun start to the trip.

The weather was absolutey gorgeous. No humidity, and a slight breeze with partly cloudy skies. When hiking, you cannot ask for more. My brother set a blistering pace, and we had to slow down a few times to allow my heart and lungs to catch up with my body. We reached the top in record time and I was lost for a moment in the wonder of it all. The clear blue skies. The fluffy white clouds. The birds soaring through the valley below us. The wind, so strong, so powerful. I was lost there for a moment. As I watched a pair of vultures soar over head, I had this overwhelming thought, "Today was made just for me."

Just a few yards from the summit, I stopped still in my tracks. Less than ten feet in front of me was a doe. She was beautiful, and she wasn't afraid of us. We allowed her to cross the path and took a few pictures of her. We continued on our way. I was feeling amazingly blessed.

About a half and hour later we crossed paths with a group of mountain guides all crouched down over the trail. The air was filled with this rattling sound. They looked up and said, "Want to see a rattle snake?" My first instinct was to run, but I could just picture this snake chasing me all the way down the mountain. By the sounds of it, he was not too happy at all. We creaped along the far side of the trail until we could see him, coiled up and none too happy, tucked under a bush. Again, we snapped a couple pictures, and walked away. Doubly blessed.

Less than ten minutes after the snake a buck walked across the trail in front of us. We snapped some more pictures while the guides blew by angrily (heaven forbid nature gets in the way). Triply blessed.

We caught up with the guides near a shelter at the base of the mountain. We started conversation. In the middle of which, a doe wandered out onto the trail in front of us. Are you kidding me? This is so cool! Then the guides told us about the history of the mountain and showed us some of the old ruins of the town that used to be there. We got a free guided tour.

Beyond blessed.

As we walked back to the truck and passed over rippling brooks and stopped to enjoy the plant life along the way, I couldn't help but feel very loved. God had made today just for me. It was my day. He had crafted it and had done so perfectly. Then, I realized something, even if it had poured down rain, it still would have been a day made just for me.

Even if I had tripped down the rocks and snapped my leg in half, it still would have been a day made just for me. That is what the Psalmist is saying in Psalm 118:24 when he writes, "This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it."

That verb, "hath made" is purposefully. It isn't the day that the Lord hath allowed to come to pass. It isn't the day that just happened. It is the day that the Lord hath made. Everything I face today was made specifically for me. Since my primary love language is quality time, the fact that God would take the time to fashion the details of a day just for me, speaks volumes to my heart. That is amazing. He loves me. He loves me enough to make a day for me. Just for me.

Today was made for me; Tomorrow is mine too. The best thing is, you can say the same.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A Microwave Prayer

This morning, I had a precious time of prayer before the Lord. In truth I have had better, but it will still a calming time before Him. It didn't start off that way. It started, "Dear Lord... oh, I have to do that drama today. I need to remember to get gloves... Sorry, God. Thank you for today. Thank you that... oh, and I need to remember the chocolate syrup and how should I get the end tables in the car? Should I take the van?... oh, right! praying! Forgot. Umm...yeah, please be with my family today... Jonathan has that job interview this afternoon, did Justin remember to take mom to work? Oh, I hope they don't fight. RATS! I have to do postcards for the work day. I forgot to do those last night. Ug!..."

It didn't take long for me to realize that the current method of prayer was not going to work. I am one of those people who have to do two things at once or I don't get anything done. My brain is too easily distracted. So, in the quiet of the early morning, I began to pray out loud, not loudly, but out loud, whispering the words, so as not to wake my sister or to draw confused attention from my brother who was already awake (after taking mom to work). The first minute of my prayer was that God would calm my heart.

In college, one of the dean staff once said, "When you come to God, come to Him with a quiet heart." It took me a while to understand what she was saying, and even longer to understand how to do what she was saying.

We often pray microwave prayers. We push a button and walk away and allow our mouth to recite whatever we can remember, and then when we feel our prayer is done, we run out the door.

Prayer does us no good if it is a spiritual heart attack. If we come to God and can't even pray in complete sentences, we aren't really coming to God. It is as if He called us on our cell phone in the middle of cooking dinner. We smile and nod, shake our heads and ramble on as if we are all there, completely in the conversation, but within minutes it is obvious we have no clue. As we drop the spoon in the gravy we sigh and quickly mutter, "Ok, got to go. Bye!" and hang up. What a lovely conversation that was.

When we stand before the throne of the Almighty God, it would be in our best interest to be completely there. I've said before that prayer is not about changing God's mind or telling Him what He doesn't know. Even the Bible says that the Spirit prays for us. I often wonder what that prayer is like.

"Dear God, I am so nervous about this drama this afternoon. I just can't believe it is here and I really want to do well, and I just am so excited and so nervous..."

What she really means, God, is that she wants you to steady her heart and mind for the drama. Please bless the team and all of the effort they put in. Give them strength to do well for Your honor and glory.

When I get to Heaven, I would be very interested see the prayer transcripts.

So, why do we pray? We pray to remind ourselves of our position before God. If all prayer is is an incovenient dinner time cell phone call, then what have we reminded ourselves of? Nothing, except to remind us that we should be annoyed. We half-heartedly pray, "God, I leave it in Your hands," but then we walk away, with it still in hand. How does that work? I wonder if God is asking the same question.

Microwave prayers are timed too. We know the specific amount of time we have, and we need to pray in that time and God needs to answer... fast. I am guilty of remembering to pray when I only have five minutes left to pray and, when I do that, I check the clock every couple seconds just to make sure I am rattling of my list fast enough.

But, oh, the joy of crock pot praying. Have you ever cooked in a crock pot? I love it. I can throw the ingredients in in the morning and then all day, they simmer, and soften and season eachother. I can leave it in there all day. Someone can call me in the middle of dinner without throwing off my schedule. I know I have time. There is no rush, no hurry.

This morning was one of those mornings. I had prayed myself to sleep the night before (such an amazing and calming thing). So, this morning, I really had nothing new to share with God that I hadn't shared last night. This morning, became a time of sweet fellowship. I kinda got lost actually. I am sure I repeated something a couple times, but I just enjoyed the peace, the presence there. The feeling of everything being taken care of. Of life being well under control. I had given myself an hour... I am not anywhere near praying for an hour but I knew that checking the clock was not necessary and I did not until I was done.

What if we all made prayer an art instead of a convenience? What if we each took the time necessary to quiet our hearts and spend unmetered time before our God? If we could each just put it on simmer and let it go for however long we needed instead of praying zap-it prayers. Is the Creator of our Time not worthy of at least ten minutes or our time or are we too busy with life that He has become an inconvenience?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Chip Away

In case you have not noticed, I am a bit of a freak when it comes to symbolism. I love word pictures and illustrations, love love love. Give me a sharp pun or play on words and I am a very happy camper. So, imagine, if you can, how I feel when I discover another possible meaning for "Pieces of Alabaster." Originally, it was a play off of Alabaster Grace, my writing ministry. Since these are small writings, I called them "Pieces." Then, there was the whole tie in to the story of the Alabaster box in Scripture. Pieces of Alabaster were all that were left of the woman's most precious belongings. Nifty parallel. Well, yesterday morning, at church, I found another one, and it is by far my favorite.

When I took the picture at the top of this page, it was because the architect was working with alabaster. I thought is was neat that he was sculpting so delicately and so intricately the outline of a young girl into this stone. Then, I took the pictures of me writing and overlayed them to show that like the sculptor, I was working on a creative art form as well. I completely missed the best parallel of them all.

I am God's masterpiece.

Pastor spoke yesterday on the infamous sculpture, David, by Michael Angelo. I will never see it, as magnificent as some hail, unless someone decides to give David a loin cloth. As Pastor told of the sculpture, he said that some say, "Michael Angelo chipped away anything that wasn't David out of that 17 foot piece of marble."

That is the same thing God longs to do with each of us. Each of us is a rugged,rough-edged chunk of marble. We are really of no use except maybe for someone to walk on. We have no function. In each of us, God sees a potential masterpiece, and He longs to use trials and happenings in our lives in order to chip away pieces of marble, or in this case, alabaster. He wants to chip away everything that isn't what He wants us to be. He wants to take our shapeless, common form and transform it into something extraordinary. Something majestic, beautiful, and, in our case, clothed.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Key to Contentment

A recent topic of discussion amongst my social circles has been that of contentment. Contentment like physical fitness is some elusive goal of man, one which we pursue through the use of self-help seminars, life coaches, pills and vacations. Constantly, people are searching a way to reduce their stress but they cannot see the solution through the pile of stress relief balls.

I have mulled over the thought of contentment for the past couple days. It is not a new topic of thought for me. I have done my time in the prison of discontent and even find myself visiting on occasion. However, I believe I have found the key to contentment. That key is joy.

The best thing of all, joy is free. The hard thing, we cannot bring ourselves joy. We can bring ourselves happiness, but true joy can only be brought by Christ. The problem is, we have to focus on Him. Too often we think contentment is happiness, but happiness is a man-made emotion. A movie can make us happy, but a movie cannot make us content. Only Christ can make us joyful.

Since the beginning of time, we humans have been concerned with promoting ourselves. The original sin resulted from the desire to be like God. The original sin resulted from discontent. Eve was not content with what God had given her. She wanted more. That is the same thing Lucifer (Satan) was guilty of. He was a beautiful, powerful angel, but he wanted more. Greed is the enemy of contentment. Hence the jars of stress relief pills.

All modern fixes do though is permit us to have less consequences for being discontented and henceforth causing us to become more discontented. Then we go into depression, and take anti-depressants and soon we are humans who bleed pharmaceuticals but still have no relief. Even the self worth systems which have you brainwash yourself into believing that you are actually worth something are not a solution. Pretty soon, the world will come to you with more chants to the contrary. For every time you say to yourself, "I am beautiful, I am beautiful, I am beautiful" billboards and television ads will scream at you, "You may be beautiful but you are not beautiful enough." To the world, no one will ever be enough.

So how do we have contentment? Well, if greed is the enemy of contentment, it would make sense that we would have to get rid of greed and pride. It is a paradox of faith that to be content with our worth, we must see ourselves as worthless. To stop there would be depressing. Here comes the joy.

As Christians, our worth is found in Christ. To Him, we are priceless. What delight!

When I live for myself, for my wants, for my needs. When my life is focused on me, I will never find contentment. Forever, I will search for that next high, that next accolade, the fulfillment of that next desire, that next dream come true. My flesh will never ever be satisfied. What a glorious thing that I am not a slave to my flesh any more!

We have been freed from bondage to our flesh by the death of Christ. He gave us the opportunity to find our whole identity, He gave us an indentity... Himself. He has given us access to everything. I have unhindered access to the throne of the Creator of the Universe and He welcomes me to come to Him. He desires me to come to Him.

My life, in Him, has specific meaning and purpose. I was formed by Him, crafted by His hands with intent. My life is not worthless; but my worth is only found in Him. I will never be a supermodel. I have never won a beauty competition. Yet, I know that the Creator of the Universe thinks I am beautiful.

My failures have found their final resting place far beyond reach of memory or enemy. Buried beneath the cross, drowned in the blood of Christ. Gone, never to be brought to rememberance by my God. There is no condemnation.

Greed vanishes when it is replaced by the joy of knowing Christ. I cannot desire anything more when I know I have Him. I already have more than I have ever deserved and more than I will ever need. He is sufficient. In that is joy. In joy is satisfaction. In satisfaction is contentment. I may not see all of my dreams ever come true, but His far exceed my own. I am pretty sure I can "settle" for that.